A Native Plant with a Split Personality

From my perspective on the Arroyo Mocho bike trail, looking across the arroyo toward the dry brown field cluttered with debris, litter, non-native perennial pepper weed and fennel, I spot a clump of healthy green leaves dotted with dramatic white trumpet-shaped blossoms. I know right away it is jimsonweed (Datura sp.) because hot midsummer days and disturbed ground are its season. It’s a member of the family Solanaceae, which includes potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and petunias … but also tobacco and deadly nightshade! A California native plant with a Jekyll and Hyde personality!

So, is the individual in the above photo a Jekyll or a Hyde? That depends. Mary Ann, our competent plant ID associate, identified it as Datura stramonium. This species is also known as “true Datura” and is actually native to Mexico. But it closely resembles an almost identical species, D. wrightii, which is native to California. Both are widely established in the U.S.

What’s In a Name?
For anyone who is interested, the generic name Datura is taken from the Sanskrit dhatūra, meaning thorn-apple (because of the spiny covering of the fruit). The origin of stramonium is unknown, but the name Stramonia was used in the 17th century for various Datura species.[12]
The name “jimsonweed” is derived from the town of Jamestown, Virginia, where English soldiers consumed the plant while attempting to suppress Bacon’s Rebellion (1675-76). (They spent 11 days in altered mental states, for reasons which will be evident below.)
The species name “wrightii” honors Charles Wright (1811-85), an American botanist and railroad surveyor who collected plants for his colleague Harvard botanist Asa Gray.

The Split Personality of Jimsonweed
Altho Datura is sometimes planted in gardens as an attraction, we do not feature it at the Granada Native Garden. But if you are fortunate to come across it in the wild, examine it with caution. The beauty and symmetry of the blossoms, pure white with margins often tinted lavender, are tempting. They are sweetly scented and usually open in evening in order to attract nocturnal pollinating hawkmoths, or on cloudy days or in the shade.  Soon after the blossoms open, they release a plume of carbon dioxide, which signals when nectar is most abundant, an invitation to the hawkmoths. (Cited by Emily Underwood in “Flora”, the publication of the California Native Plant Society.)  The oval-shaped fruit has a thorny covering.

But the crushed leaves and stems stain your hands yellow and possess an unpleasant smell. More importantly, all parts of the plant are deadly poisonous, and its toxic compounds reportedly can be absorbed thru skin! Extracts from this plant are narcotic, hallucinogenic, and, if ingested, potentially lethal. All parts of the plant contain dangerous levels of the psychoactive alkaloids atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine. The risk of fatal overdose is high among uninformed users, and many hospitalizations occur among recreational users who ingest the plant for its psychoactive effects. The amount of toxins varies widely from plant to plant.

Its Importance to Indigenous Cultures
Nonetheless, Native Americans have valued Datura since before recorded history for its vision-inducing and pain-killing properties. The narcotic properties of species have long been known, and it once figured importantly in religious ceremonies in the Southwest “to establish contact with a supernatural guardian who would provide protection, special skill, and a personal talisman; for clairvoyance, such as contacting the dead, finding lost objects, seeing the future, or seeing the true nature of people; and to cure the effects of injury, evil omens or breaches of taboo, and obtain immunity from danger.” (quotation from Chumash Ethnobotany, by Jan Timbrook). In a Tubatulabal myth, jimson weed was once a man who, when he died, told the people to dig his roots if they were in need of help. (Cited by M. Kat Anderson in Tending the Wild ).

However, as far as we know, indigenous peoples were quite aware that jimson weed was potentially lethal, and used it for religious purposes, and were careful to gauge the correct dosage. I’m not aware of any records of overdoses among them, unlike the current fad to use such substances solely for recreational purposes.

Quote for the Occasion
“Last Christmas somebody gave me a whole Jimson weed – the root must have weighed two pounds; enough for a year – but I ate the whole thing in about twenty minutes. Luckily, I vomited most of it right back up. But even so, I went blind for three days. I couldn’t even walk! My whole body turned to wax. I was such a mess that they had to haul me back to the ranch house in a wheelbarrow. They said I was trying to talk, but I sounded like a raccoon.”
– Hunter S. Thompson, in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, Part 2, chapter 5, recounted by the character Dr. Gonzo.

Guided Tours of the Granada Native Garden Are Available                                                   Are you interested in seeing some of the plants that are described in this Newsletter or in past issues?  One or more staff of the GNG are routinely on duty at the Garden on Mondays and Thursdays, roughly between 10:00 AM and 12:00 noon.  But it isn’t very hard to arrange a guided visit at other times.  If you are interested in scheduling a visit, just email Jim at  JIMatGNG@gmail.com .  Or if you have any questions or inquiries, please email Jim at the same address! Directions to the Garden and information about volunteering there can be found by clicking one of the buttons at the top of the first page of this Newsletter.

Index

This Index is to help both new and current Followers of the Granada Native Garden Newsletter become acquainted with the Garden and its Newsletter … and to help current Followers locate informational articles from earlier posts and individual topics.

To use this Index, scroll down to the topic that interests you.  Take note of the month and year when the topic was archived.  Then back up to the current Newsletter post and click on the desired month and year in the Archive list.

To become a Follower, just find the “Follow” button at the lower right corner of the screen and follow the easy instructions.  You will be notified automatically by email whenever a new post is published (usually every one or two months).  Welcome to the Granada Native Garden Newsletter!

If you have questions or comments, please email Jim at  JIMatGNG@gmail.com .

A:  Individual Plant Topics:  COMMON NAMES
B.  Individual Plant Topics:  SCIENTIFIC NAMES
C.  Plants by Themes
D.  General Topics

A.  INDIVIDUAL PLANT TOPICS:  COMMON NAMES                                   

BuckeyeArchived in April, 2016.  Posted on April 17.                                          Buckwheat:  Archived in June, 2013.  Posted on June 26.
Bush Poppy:  Archived in February, 2015.  Posted on February 3.
California Poppies:  Archived in March, 2013.  Posted on March 15.
California White Oak:  Archived in August, 2014.  Posted on August 29.
Clarkia:  Archived in May, 2014.  Posted on May 4, 2014.
Coyote Brush:  Archived in February, 2014.  Posted on February 7.
Elderberry:  Archived in August, 2013.  Posted on August 23.
Fiddleneck:  Archived in February, 2016.  Posted on February 7.
Flannelbush:  Archived in May, 2019.  Posted on May 31.
Grape:  Archived in December, 2015.  Posted on December 1, 2015.
Gumplant:  Archived in March 2020.  Posted on March 11.
Holly-Leafed Cherry:  Archived in October, 2015.  Posted on October 11, 2015.
Hummingbird Sage – A Different Kind of SageArchived in March 2018.  Posted on March 27.
Jimsonweed:  Archived in July, 2021.  Posted on July 21.
Lupine:  Archived in April, 2013.  Posted on April 29, 2013.
Malva Rose:  Archived in August, 2017.  Posted on August 8,  2017.
Matilia Poppy:Archived in May, 2016.  Posted on May 30, 2016.
Miner’s Lettuce:  Archived in January, 2016.  Posted on January 17, 2016.
Mugwort:  Archived in July, 2015.  Posted on July 2.
Our Lord’s Candle:  Archived in May, 2015.  Posted on May 29.
Purple Needlegrass:  Archived in April, 2015.  Posted on April 30.
Sagebrush:  Archived in July, 2015.  Posted on July 2.
Snowdrop:  Archived in May, 2020.  Posted on May 29.
Soap Lily:  Archived in January, 2019.  Posted on January 12.
Tarweeds:Archived in October, 2017.  Posted on October 15.
Toyon:  Archived in December, 2013.  Posted on December 5.
Valley oak:  Archived in August, 2014.  Posted on August 29.
Woolly Blue Curls:  Archived in October 2020.  Posted on October 13.
Yampah:  Archived in July, 2016.Posted on July 14.
Yarrow:  Archived in March, 2017.  Posted on March 5.           

B.  INDIVIDUAL PLANT TOPICS:  SCIENTIFIC NAMES                                                  Achillea millefolium Archived in March, 2017Posted on March 5.
Aesculus californicaArchived in April, 2016.  Posted on April 17.
Amsinckia menziesii:  Archived in February, 2016.  Posted on February 7.
Artemesia spp.:  Archived in July, 2015.  Posted on July 2.
Baccharis pilularisArchived in February, 2014.  Posted on February 7.
Chlorogalum pomeridianum:  Archived in January, 2019.  Posted on January 12.
Clarkia spp.:  Archived in May, 2014.  Posted on May 4.
Claytonia perfoliataArchived in January, 2016.  Posted on January 17, 2016.
Datura stramonium:  Archived in July 2021.  Posted on July 21.
Dendromecon:  Archived in February, 2015.  Posted on February 3.
Eriogonum spp.:  Archived in June, 2013.  Posted on June 26.
Eschscholzia californica:  Archived in March, 2013.  Posted on March 15.
Fremontodendron:  Archived in May, 2019.  Posted on May 31.
Hesperoyucca whipplei:  Archived in May, 2015.  Posted on May 29.
Heteromeles arbutifolia:  Archived in December, 2013.  Posted on December 5.
Holocarpha virgata:  Archived in October, 2017.  Posted on October 15.
Grindelia camporum:  Archived in March 2020.  Posted on March 11.
Lupinus spp.:  Archived in April, 2013.  Posted on April 29.
Malva assurgentiflora:  Archived in August, 2017.  Posted on August 8.
Quercus lobata:  Archived in August, 2014.  Posted on August 29.
Perideridia kellogii:  Archived in July, 2016.Posted on July 14, 2016.
Prunus ilicifolia:  Archived in October, 2015.  Posted on October 11.
Romneya coulteri:Archived in May, 2016.  Posted on May 30, 2016.
Salvia spathacea:Archived in March, 2018.  Posted on March 27.
Sambucus mexicana:  Archived in August, 2013.  Posted on August 23.
Stipa (Nassella) pulchra:  Archived in April, 2015.  Posted on April 30.
Styrax redivivus:  Archived in May, 2020.  Posted on May 29.
Trichostema lanatum:  Archived in October 2020.  Posted on October 13.
Vitis californica:  Archived in December, 2015.  Posted on December 1, 2

C.  PLANTS BY THEMES
About “Fire Followers”:  Archived in July, 2014.  Posted on July 10.
Current Attractions – Earth Day, 2014Archived in April, 2014. Posted on April 27.
Is There Life after Poppies?:  Archived in May, 2013.  Posted on May 27.
Late Summer Color at the GNGArchived in September, 2018.  Posted on September 13.
Planting for PollinatorsArchived in November, 2013.  Posted on November 10.
Precocious Poppies & Other Signs of Spring:  Archived in February, 2014.  Posted on February 26.
The Colors of Spring (April, 2014)Archived in April, 2014.  Posted on April 6.
The Return of the WildflowersArchived in March, 2015.  Posted on March 19.
Two Surprise Appearances!Archived in March, 2015.  Posted on March 31.

D.  GENERAL TOPICS
Welcome to the Granada Native Garden
Archived in February, 2013.
  Posted on February 18
Overview of the Granada Native Garden
Archived in February, 2013.  Posted on February 24.
A Short History of the Granada Native Garden
Archived in May, 2013.  Posted on May 8.
Honoring Louann
Archived in July 2019.  Posted on July 28.
Plant Communities of the Granada Native Garden
Archived in April, 2013.  Posted on April 1.
Water Management at the Granada Native Garden
Archived in January, 2015.  Posted on January 3.
Why Should We Plant Natives?
Archived in November, 2014.  Posted on November 11.
Why Do People NOT Grow Native Plants? – Part 1
Archived in July, 2013.  Posted on July 18.
Why Do People NOT Grow Native Plants? – Part 2
Archived in July, 2013.  Posted on July 24.
Planting for Pollinators  
Archived in November, 2013. Posted on November 10.
Fire! … at the Granada Native Garden
Archived in June, 2014.  Posted on June 10.
Current Attractions – Earth Day, 2014

Archived in April, 2014.  Posted on April 27.
Is There Life after Poppies?
Archived in May, 2013.  Posted on May 27.
Precocious Poppies & Other Signs of Spring (Feb-Mar, 2014)
Archived in February, 2014.  Posted on February 26.
The Colors of Spring (April, 2014)
Archived in April, 2014.  Posted on April 6.
Return of the Wildflowers
Archived in March, 2015.  Posted on March 19.
Two Surprise Appearances!
Archived in March, 2015.  Posted on March 31.
The Arroyo Mocho at the Granada Native Garden
Archived in August, 2015.  Posted on August 25.
What’s Blooming? – March, 2016                                                                                  
Archived in March, 2016.  Posted on March 8.
In Defense of “Bugs”
Archived in September, 2016.  Posted on September 10.
Nature Therapy at the Granada Native Garden
Archived in March, 2018.  Posted on March 25.
Volunteering at the Granada Native Garden                                                            
Archived in September, 2018.  Posted on September14.

ALN Credit